if our defense can just hold them, this offense can four touchdowns in a quarter and a half."He simply laughed, but as Bulldog head coach Sonny Dykes said in his post game press conference via UHCougars.com, "That is what Houston does, they score fast. I think they had about one drive where they went 80 yards in three plays and took 20 seconds off the clock and that is what that team can do. That is what they do and they do it pretty regularly and it is our job to stop them." That drive Coach Dykes talked about started the onslaught in which QB Case Keenum completed a screen pass for 17 yards to running back Charles Sims. Bryce Beall then rushed for 13 yards before Keenum completed the scoring drive with a 53 yard bomb to receiver Patrick Edwards for 50 yards. The score was 34 – 14 with four and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter and the defense then began to step up their game.
Scoring often and fast is what the Cougars did, and the Bulldogs did not stop them in the Cougars most historic comeback in school history in scoring the game's final 28 points and winning 35 – 34 in Ruston Saturday night. Keenum, the 6th year senior, finished the game completing 25 of 40 passes for 351 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. For the season Case is second in the nation in passing yards per game averaging 373 per game. He has a completion percentage of 66.9 and has thrown 10 touchdowns to only the 2 interceptions. He passed Texas Tech's Graham Herrell for 2nd all time in passing yards giving him 15,606 for his career. He is only 1,304 yards away from overtaking Hawaii's Timmy Chang for the all time lead at 16,910 yards. If he continues at his current 373 yard per game average he should become the NCAA's all time leading passer in four games which would be versus Marshall on October 22nd at the Rob(get your tickets now). Considering the Cougars next three opponents are hardly defensive stalwarts in FCS school Georgia State, and fellow CUSA foes UTEP and East Carolina with only road game being UTEP, there is an outside possibility he could break the record at the home game versus East Carolina on the 15th of October.
Head Coach Kevin Sumlin sums up the historic comeback, "I couldn't be prouder of this team. We had great leadership. Look at all the plays it took to win the game. They were all committed by seniors that have been in big ball games and understand the situation. They didn't get frustrated for flustered. They kept playing and made plays at the end of the game when a lot of the times guys might try to do too much or over compensate."
The game started for the Cougars much the same way it did last weekend at North Texas; slowly in all three phases of the game. The Cougars offense once again came out flat and uninspired in going three and out on their first possession of the game. After forcing the Bulldogs into a three and out of their own, Edwards muffed a punt return inside the Cougars five yard line allowing the Bulldogs to recover. Edwards is a nice punt returner when he is given room for the return but he needs to learn when to avoid trying a return in traffic. The old special teams saying is that if a ball is ever punted inside your ten yard line, give a fair catch signal and just allow the ball to bounce. It's much better to start a possession at your own three yard line than to give the ball to the opposing team at that spot. Four plays later, after a five yard offsides penalty, Lennon Creer scored on 4th & Goal giving the Bulldogs an early 7 - 0 lead which gave hope to their crowd. Creer rushed for 100 yards on 25 carries despite missing half of the second quarter and all of the third with some type of ankle injury.
His pounding between the tackles was complimented nicely by fellow back Ray Holley's elusiveness on the edges as he gained 62 yards of his own on 22 carries. Once Creer left the game, Holley showed his toughness as he gashed the Cougars continuously up the middle along with QB Nick Isham. The true freshman was impressive in conducting the Bulldogs Zone read rushing attack with some option principles as he also contributed 52 yards on 12 carries(although he lost 20 of those on 2 Cougar sacks). One of those sacks was by Will linebacker Sammy Brown who sacked the freshman QB for a 12 yard loss during the Bulldogs second to last possession of the final period. The Bulldogs at the time were still leading 34 to 28 and were at midfield trying to put the game away with a field goal. Instead they had to punt, giving Case and the offense two minutes and 46 seconds left for their game winning drive. This was more than enough time as Keenum orchestrated a beautiful six play 84 yard drive that took a mere one minute and ten seconds that was capped by a beautiful thrown pass off of a naked bootleg from Keenum to Edwards. The 32 yard reception was just as amazing as the pass as Edwards caught the ball falling out of the back of the end zone as he drug one foot inbounds for the game winning touch down.
Through three quarters, the 17 year old freshman controlled Louisiana Tech's spread offense wonderfully as he completed 20 of 31 passes for 199 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Unfortunately for him and his teammates, he showed his inexperience in the 4th quarter as his interception to corner back Thomas Bates was thrown into double coverage with the Bulldogs leading 34 to 28 midway through the period. The Bulldogs finished the game with 233 rushing yards on 66 carries which led to a huge time of possession advantage of 34 minutes to 26. This is a problem the Cougars defense must improve on or it will come back to bite them later in the season.
Defensively, the Cougars allowed Louisiana Tech to dictate the pace of the game through three quarters as their zone read game had the Coogs back on their heals constantly. Just as North Texas previously, Louisiana Tech's offense confused the Cougars defense early, coach Sumlin later admitting during the post game presser. They came out early controlling the game with the run via multiple zone read keepers by Isham or gives to Creer or Holley. They tossed in a few misdirection runs and passes off a bootleg or two along with a run off of a reverse to keep the defense honest. The Cougars tackling also left much to be desired as Holley seemed to bounce off many of attempted tackles in gaining extra yardage. The 4th quarter defense was only impressive in the fact that they forced two key turnovers and a punt in holding the Bulldogs scoreless during the comeback. Defensive back Thomas Bates was the defensive player of the game in my book with two interceptions; one at the Cougar 40 yard line, plays after a 43 yard Bulldog kickoff return put them in great field position to at least attempt a field goal that might have killed the Cougars momentum early in the 4th. Safety Kent Brooks forced a fumble off of a jarring hit on Holley that linebacker Phillip Steward recovered at the Cougars 22 on the possession before Bates 2nd Int. The Cougars are tied with 16 other teams at 41st in the nation in turnover margin. They have created seven and lost six for a margin of +.33. The defense overall needs to improve if the Cougars are to become CUSA champs and a BCS buster but there is something to be said for holding your opponents to only twelve fourth quarter points on the early season.
This team's strength is obviously their offense, but they must get out of their 1st half rut in which they have allowed the last two opponents to dictate the pace of the game. This is one weakness of an uptempo no huddle attack. If they are off early and go "3 & out" multiple times, they put the defense back out onto the field with little or no rest. In the first half, the Cougars offense was outgained 249 yards to 109, including only 72 passing yards by Keenum in a half in which he was continuously pressured into throwing the ball away. With an early lead the Bulldogs came hard at Keenum with only a four man rush for the most part, sacking Keenum twice. Fifty two of Keenum's passing yards came on one screen pass turned into a touchdown by Sims early in the 2nd quarter to bring the Coogs to within three at 10 – 7. The Cougars trailed 20 – 7 at the half and 34 – 7 before the quick strike offense finally got on track. After the aforementioned 3 play 80 yard drive that brought the Coogs to within 34 to 14, the offense had numerous big plays such as a 55 yard slant from Keenum to
slot receiver Justin Johnson(5 total catches for 100 yards), that later led to a one yard TD plunge by Beall on 3rd & goal to make the score 34 – 21 minutes into the 4th. Another explosive play was a 28 yard reception by Charles Sims on an "iso go route" that later lead to a 7 yard touchdown toss from Keenum to Tyron Carrier to make it a 34 to 28 game. Sims and Michael Hayes did not contribute much to the run game as they combined for 48 yards on 15 carries. Beall, whom had 61 yards on only 11 attempts, contributed the heavy lifting as the Cougars were forced to pass since they were down big early. They did however; combine for 105 yards on 7 receptions out of the backfield. Case also hit receiver E.J. Smith on a 26 yard pass on the play before Edwards(3 receptions for 84 yards) game winning 32 yard reception. Keenum finished the second half by completing 17 of 23 passes for 278 yards with his 3 touchdowns. For the astounding stat of the night, in the first half of the Cougars last two games Keenum has completed 17 of 35 passes for 146 yards with 2 interceptions and 2 touchdowns. In the second halves, he's completed 34 of 46 for 662 yards with 7 touchdowns and one interception. Those must be some impressive half time speeches by offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. I also continue to like Kingsbury's mixture of pass and run in regards to his play calling. He does a masterful job as knowing just when to call a draw play and the way he disguises his game plan via the different shifts and motions of the formations continue to impress me. Of course it's difficult to find any faults in an offense that continues to lead the nation in passing yards, at 408 per game, and is in the top ten in overall yardage(536) and in the top 20 in scoring(at 40.1).
Special teams play left much to be desired Saturday night. Coach Sumlin said Louisiana Tech's special teams play was very good, and he was right. The Cougars allowed 136 kickoff return yards on 6 attempts which is good for only a 22.6 yard per return average. Two of those returns, however, were for 44 and 32 yards during the 4th quarter by Louisiana Tech running back Lyle Fitte, which gave the Bulldogs great field position to start two of their 4th quarter drives. This comes on the heels of last week's 286 return yards allowed on 9 returns by North Texas receiver Brelan Chancellor. Failure to cover kickoffs is something that good teams will take advantage of later in the season. Another major problem was Edwards fumble on his first punt return attempt. He later fumbled another attempt but recovered it. Things got so bad that Kent Brooks was sent in to return the Cougars final punt of the evening, in which he fair caught it. Neither Edwards or Carrier (on kick returns) has broken the big one yet, but it's still early in the season. Punter Richie Leone continues to boom punts as he had seven more for an average of 47.7 yards and kicker Matt Hogan continues his money like five for five on extra point attempts. He did not have a field goal attempt.
After saying that I had complete confidence that the offense could lead the team to victory, four touchdowns, some tenacious defense and an hour later, my friend said, "I'm impressed, you called it." Any diehard Cougar fan probably had the same thought process though.